Happy National Adoption Month from your girls at Choice Adoptions!
This month we are celebrating the story of adoption. It's a story that each of us, here at Choice, felt drawn to. It's why we work in adoption. We're committed to seeing families find one another, helping mamas find options, and protecting vulnerable children.
The story of adoption is one that has a lot of characters...
...the birth parents who made the hardest decision of their lives, for the good of their child...
...the adoptive parents who waited for years to hold that baby in their arms...
...and of course, the child who grows up knowing the love of two families.
This National Adoption Month, we're going to be telling some beautiful adoption stories and introducing you to some incredible adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents who make these stories possible.
This week, we're talking to Jen Askew an Adoption Specialist here at Choice and an adoptee! Jen is a Childbirth Educator and Newborn Sleep Specialist for Providence and Oregon Health and Science University, here in Portland, OR. Jen brings such a kind and compassionate presence to the Choice Adoptions team, and we are thrilled to interview her for National Adoption Month!
I (Hannah) got to interview Jen this week and learn a little bit more of what it was like to grow up adopted and how her story led her to the adoption field.
Hannah: Can you share a little bit of your story with us?
Jen: I was born to a mother who found out she was pregnant in high school. The birth father denied that the child was his, so she quickly turned inward. She told her mom and her older sister (she’s one of 7). They told her that adoption was the only option, being Catholic. She was about seven months pregnant and graduating from high school, when she was connected to a couple who wanted to adopt. She carried me to full term, was sent away to live with an aunt. She had no relationship with my adoptive family, it was all closed adoption. My birth mom said that when I was born, they drugged her, put a sheet up, she had me, and they took me out of the room to where my adoptive parents were.
Hannah: It sounds like no one was there to advocate for your mom.
Jen: Yeah, I don’t even know if her mom was with her, or if she was all by herself. They moved her onto a different floor. After it was over, her mom told her, “Don’t ever talk about it or breathe about it ever again.” She went home to her seven siblings and only her oldest sister knew. Nobody knew. She hid it the whole time…until I found her in 1998.
My adoptive parents had tried for nine years to have a baby, and were absolutely delighted to have a baby through adoption, and of course, right after they adopted me, they got pregnant with my brother, and he was born eleven months later.
Hannah: Can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with your birth mother? When did you meet her? What is your relationship like today?
Jen: I didn’t want to spend money, hire and investigator, just wanted to see if God would put it in my lap. I tried when I was a senior in high school. I went to the hospital and had a very rude person at the admin office saying, “This isn’t your right. You’re not entitled to this.” They were very rude. I left crying, I remember being very upset. So I assumed it just wasn’t information I was going to know.
I got married and felt like if I got bad news, that I would be okay. I was a teacher at an elementary school. I didn’t want to be at that school, I was bitter and angry about it, but God put me there so I could meet this one woman who I worked with. She was this jokester lady, so I thought she was joking but when she heard my story, she said that she could get me information on my birth mom. The next day, she comes into my classroom and says, “We found her.”
My husband and I looked her up in the yellow pages and called her, and that’s how I got to meet my birth mother and birth grandmother. A week later I met her husband, and then I went to a picnic where I met most of her siblings. They were so wonderful and so welcoming. My birth mom had five children after me. When I’m in town, I get to see her. I was just in town last week, and my adoptive mom came with me to see my birth mom. She's been very kind, very loving. She had a mother’s ring and the month I found her, she added my birth stone. So she always had five, and she added me. The big family picture above the fire place with all of them–they added me. We re-did the photo. My siblings were really great about it.
Hannah: What was it like growing up adopted?
Jen: As a child I didn’t know a difference. I knew that I tanned and my family didn’t tan. I knew that I had blue eyes and my family had darker hazel eyes. I had blondish hair and they had darker hair. I knew that I looked different, but I didn’t know until I was older that my emotions and my character of who I am was so different. I am a very emotional person. I just cry easy. Had I been raised by my birth family, who cries I would have known that it was normal. I don’t think that hit me as a child, probably not until I was in my thirties. Now when I go to see my birth family and my siblings, these are my people. I feel connective in the eyes and the soul.
But I was told by my adoptive family that I was a gift from God. I was told that they tried super hard to have a baby, and that God planted this perfect child right in their path.
Hannah: How did your parents start the adoption conversation with you? Did you find that approach helpful in understanding your own story?
Jen: I think my parents did a really beautiful job. It was, “I didn’t birth you, but you’re my daughter.” My mother never, never ever ever used the word “adopted child.” Something I would want to make clear especially to families who already have a couple kids and they adopt a child. I hear people say, “I have four children, three are my children and one is adopted.” I was never introduced as the “adopted child.” I think it’s really important to feel fully included.
Hannah: What led you to work in adoption? How did you find Choice?
Jen: During COVID I just felt really strongly that I wanted to do some kind of adoption work, be on the board or volunteer. Then I saw you [Hannah] speaking at my church, Bridgetown. I come from a background of education, teaching small children, then jumping into the birth world as a postpartum doula, a birth doula, very much a parent advocate. I did all of that to educate parents, why wouldn’t I bring it into the world of adoption? I messaged Taryn again and we met up. At that meeting, she told me, “You’re not leaving here without a job.”
Hannah: Has your work in the adoption field caused you to see your own story in a different light, or colored in any blank spaces? If so, how?
Jen: It's crazy. I don’t even know how to process it. There are a few moments I replay in my head. I was with a client when she birthed, and I got to hand that Baby to his adoptive parents. Handing him to them, I realized, “That baby was me.” Watching this couple hold this baby and delight over this baby gave me a little bit of a glimpse of what happened when I was born.
The other moments that replay in my head are the hard ones--where I work as an advocate with my clients. I'm with that sweet birth mama in the delivery room, I walk with her out of the hospital, I take her home--and walk with her through that grieving process. With some of these clients, I still text with them daily. The choice I’m making in the life that I’ve chosen is to be there for these birth moms. This birth mother chose life for her baby. And I get to give life to her through this process because what she did is amazing.
Hannah: You have a very informed perspective from two very important places. As an adoptee and an adoption specialist, is there anything you would want to say to birth parents who are considering adoption?
Jen: My mind goes back to when you and I did a placement together. I told the birth mom, “You are doing the most selfless act a human being could ever do.” When I was able to share with one of our clients that 13 of our families said yes to potentially adopting her baby, she said, “My baby? That many people?” “Yes! Your baby. Yes! That many people.” I always want my clients to know that it doesn’t matter if you know the birth father’s background, or if you have substances in your system, or what other choices you’ve made. There are families who long to adopt and love your child.
Hannah: Is there anything you would like to say to younger adoptees or our waiting families?
Jen: Don’t focus on the negative and the lack and differences. Focus on the similarities. Focus on the fact that you were chosen. One person chose to give you life, and another family chose to bring you into their family.
To our waiting families: my parents waited nine years to find me. And I do believe that the right baby in the right season, at the right time, is going to happen. If you’re not matched yet, you have a capacity and a bandwidth to love the nieces and nephews and children in your community--to be the village.
HUGE thank you to Jen for sharing her story with us! We are so honored to be part of your story and to let your experiences teach us how to provide wonderful care to our birth mamas and our 'lil adoptees.
Next week! We interview one of our adoptive families and hear their adoption journey. See you then!